People with mental distress are not believed when reporting hate crime and abuse, despite experiencing serious assaults, victimisation and neglect, according to a new report.
Disabled academics who helped with the research that led to the report say that the extent of hate crime and abuse in mental health is seriously under-estimated.
The new report from the National Survivor User Network (NSUN) offers guidance to support those who have experienced abuse, victimisation and hate crime because of their mental distress or psychiatric diagnosis.
The guidance describes some of the sources of support that people with mental distress have found useful, and provides advice for those experiencing abuse, victimisation and hate crime.
It is based on the user-led Keeping Control study, which aimed to address a gap in knowledge about targeted violence, abuse and hostility against people with mental health problems.
Alongside the guidance, written by mental health service-user-researcher Dr Alison Faulkner, and also available in Urdu, Gujarati, Arabic, Bengali and easy-read, NSUN has released five short interviews.
In her interview, Dr Faulkner said: “I think that abuse and hate crime in mental health is something that is really under-estimated.
“It’s very hidden. People are often afraid to come forward and talk about it, and also they may feel that they are in some way to blame.”
She said there were many different experiences of hate crime and abuse, including physical assault, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, abuse based on discrimination, institutional abuse, neglect and financial exploitation.
Some of those interviewed for the Keeping Control study spoke of the abuse they experienced while being treated in psychiatric institutions, including sexual abuse and abusive treatment, such as being forcibly treated under the Mental Health Act.
Dr Faulkner said: “Still there are people in the world who think that when you go into a psychiatric hospital you go in to be looked after, you go in to receive care, and that is something that this study has really blown apart.”
Dr Sarah Carr, a service-user-survivor-researcher who also worked on the Keeping Control project, said in her interview: “We found that people with mental health problems were at pretty high risk of experiencing disability hate crime.
“They are targeted because of their mental health problems or diagnosis or label.”
She said that many people did not report such incidents because they felt it was an “inevitable part of their life” or they did not feel they would be believed because of their mental health status, while they were also seen as unreliable witnesses.
They also felt that services would not help them if they reported what had happened.
Dr Carr said victims were often targeted in situations where they were vulnerable or powerless, such as on mental health wards.
She said: “We wanted to see change in services, change in practice, change in the way systems work, and we wanted to see social change in the way people with mental health problems are perceived and treated.”
Tina Coldham, a member of the expert advisory group on the study, said: “I’m in my 50s, I’ve grown up and I’ve got used to abusive comments, children would use some very unfortunate language, which now I would hope you don’t use so much in the playground, but you get used to it and accept it and don’t perhaps recognise it as hate crime.
“There is a tendency to sometimes internalise it, and not do anything with it, so another obstacle is that people will just hang onto it, and of course that is really corrosive to your sense of wellbeing.
“Another obstacle is how and where to report it, what sort of reception will I have if I do report it.”
She said she lives in Southampton, which has third-party hate crime reporting centres, which can help with that process.
She added: “Sometimes things happen to people in psychiatric hospitals, on wards, or in care settings, where the word care goes out of the window.”
Christine Khisa, a peer researcher and service-user, who was also involved in Keeping Control, said the project had given a voice to service-users.
She said: “I have been in a relationship where I have been physically abused. I was targeted as a consequence of my mental illness.
“I wasn’t even living with the individual but because of my vulnerabilities I was not listened to, I had no voice.
“I have even been on a ward where my partner has come to the ward… and he takes my money, he takes anything of value, and I’m just left there with nothing.
“And then he’s allowed in again, and I can’t even report it to staff because I’m the one that’s ill, I’m the one that’s vulnerable, I’m the one that needs help, I’m the one that needs care, I’m in that position.
“But if I do voice my concerns, when it does come to discharge, I’ve still got to go home to more of the same.”
She said it was vital to give people “the skills and the tools” to safeguard themselves, and to show them that “this is how you report it, this is who you go to, this is what you have to do, and this is what will take place, and this is how we will help you get through this”.
This information is “vitally important”, she said, and is sometimes “a matter of life or death”.
Picture: Dr Alison Faulkner (left) and Christine Khisa talking about Middlesex University’s Keeping Control study
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